Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Trash Talk and Propaganda

I sat down intent on writing something away from politics, something fun and maybe mildly entertaining.  Then I started thinking, always a bad sign, about the stuff that stuffs my inbox each day, and about the quality of political writing that used to epitomize the right wing but now infects the progressive side as well.  If you don’t want to read this entire article, it comes down to this.  It’s bad writing that doesn’t help.  It often uses the tools of classic propaganda that progressives should not simply avoid but condemn. Two pieces that caught my attention in the last couple of days stand out as examples of what I mean.  One was an editorial diatribe from Drew Magary in an online edition of GQ.  The other was a fund raising appeal from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

Magary wrote a scatalogically scathing article about his distaste for NYT columnist David Brooks, particularly Brooks’ take on the Russia investigation, which he thinks is adding up to not much.  Magary was offended that Brooks would dismiss a Russian cyber invasion to undermine American democracy as no big deal.  Differences on important issues argued out in public is a good thing, but Magary used up most of his energy on ad hominem attacks using the usual variety of sophomoric words one hears on talk radio and late night t.v.  Why?  He had a legitimate point to make.  Why demean it with irrelevant trash talk?  Isn’t that something better left to Limbaugh and company?  It’s not  likely that any voters and potential voters progressives need to attract will ever read GQ ,or anything Magary writes anywhere else.  And that’s a good thing because it’s precisely his style that shines a crude light on progressives as elite snobs who look down on everyone else as what?  Disreputable?  Despicable?  Low class?  The servant class?  Oh sure, they say they’re for the workers and struggling middle class, but they’re just a bunch of self righteous, over educated, elitists, and Magary proves it.

The First Amendment gives him (and me) the right to write whatever he pleases, and the internet gives him the ability to distribute it to the widest audience he can find.  But in this case he wasted a legitimate argument on cheap, snide shots that did a disservice to progressive interests.  So much for example number one.

Example number two concerns appeals for money from dozens of organizations representing causes that, in principle, I support, mostly on the progressive or liberal side of things.  The majority use a two step formula of hyperventilating about the horrible things that will happen if the government does or doesn’t do such and such, followed by an urgent appeal for money, the use of which is left vaguely implied.  I get such an appeal from the League of Conservation Voters several times a week, sometimes several times a day.  The most recent appealed for funds based on the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the Clean Water Rule, thus endangering the drinking water of up to 117 million people.  Oh No!  Help!  Now what does that imply?  That there is a Clean Water Rule protecting drinking water?  That it establishes a norm for clean drinking water?  That it might be related to something like Flint?  That its repeal will result in immediate harm to millions?  Quick, send money!

As it turns out, the Clean Water Rule was adopted in 2015, two years ago, and has never been implemented due to litigation and court ordered stays.   From what I can tell, it’s a decent rule clarifying how the Clean Water Act of 1972 should be applied to certain upstream waters and wetlands in a more systematic and less expensive way than the current case-by-case practice of enforcement.   The thing is, repealing it does nothing to change current practice, nor does it affect standards established by law or other regulations.  So the entire LCV appeal is nothing but old time propaganda in which a smidgen of truth has been contorted beyond credibility to take advantage of gullible people who won’t bother to check the facts, but are frightened into sending cash.  

To be fair, my friend Kieth, a right wing Trump supporting wheat farmer, went ballistic when it was promulgated two years ago because his right wing interest group pulled the same propaganda trick to scare their cash cows into believing every pot hole and seasonal wet area would be controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard.  It was patently false to anyone who bothered to do a little investigating, but it raised enough angst and cash to help litigate and get the stays they wanted.  Let’s leave that kind of thing to the right wing.  Progressives can do better.  

As for me, if you’re not going to be honest with me, I’m not going to send cash to you.  I’ll keep reading Brooks even when I think he’s dead wrong.  If I accidentally stumble across another Magary article, I’ll probably trash it.


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